Championed by soprano Renée Fleming, Handel’s 1725 Rodelinda is a fine example of a Baroque opera which has successfully transferred from small, intimate theatres to the Metropolitan Opera. As seen here, the commitment and quality of Ms Fleming’s performance is a major factor in the success of this relatively recent trend. Her acting talent shows us a complex central character: the deposed Queen of Milan, believing her husband dead; a strong, protective mother; a brave and defiant character who, although suffering greatly, will not be cowed.

Ms Fleming’s extraordinary vocal technique and power of expression are at their most moving in the ornamented arias which feature in her most anguished moments, such as “Se’l mio duol”, at which point she has cause to believe that her husband, having once cheated death, has failed to do so a second time. The issue of how to handle da capo arias’ repetition within a dramatic context is one of several interesting points discussed with host Deborah Voigt during the intervals.

Another point of discussion is Thomas Lynch’s astonishing set for this production, directed by Stephen Wadsworth and first staged in 2004. Housed on two vast wagons, it allows ready access to several indoor and outdoor locations. Thanks to the “missing fourth wall”, migration from indoor to outdoor locations is seamless, allowing tense moments where near and dear ones, thought to be dead or imperilled, brush by one another unaware. Drama is further enhanced by a very tight connection between location and action. The heartsore Rodelinda begins her story chained to her bed, and in this room the gravity of her situation and the options before her unfold; scheming, plotting and resolution are housed in the sumptuous library; revelations and combat take place mainly outside.

Ms Fleming is joined by a musically and dramatically excellent cast. Bertarido, the deposed King of Milan, is played by countertenor Andreas Scholl never loses sight of honour, despite horrific deeds perpetrated against him. Fellow countertenor Iestyn Davies is life-affirming as Bertarido’s brave and ever-optimistic friend Unulfo. The usurper Grimoaldo is very convincingly portrayed by tenor Joseph Kaiser. Eduige, sister to Bertarido and former object of Grimoaldo’s desires, is played by the immensely expressive Stephanie Blythe, one of few contraltos equally at home in Handel and Wagner. The bass Shenyang portrays a thoroughly believable and doubly duplicitous Garibaldo. Literally seen and not heard is the excellent Moritz Linn as the quietly confident, silently suffering Flavio, son of Rodelinda and Bertarido.

Throughout, the cast is supported by a very fine orchestra under Harry Bicket and, deservedly, they are warmly received by the audience at the beginning of each of the three acts. Whether emitting anxious dotted rhythms, angular grief-laden lines in moments of tension, or more tranquil textures in tender scenes, they support without overshadowing. Perhaps ironically, this is most evident in some very simple unison lines, which serve to underline characters’ renewed resolve in the face of adversity.

The complexity of the drama is very well managed. Grimoaldo is no penny-dreadful villain, and exhibits moments of self-doubt and compassion. Despite his dubious moral compass, his righteous indignation is heartfelt and palpable. The “goodies” are prepared to resort to dark methods in the pursuit of justice, such as Rodelinda’s insistence that Grimoaldo kill her son, a request which places even this addict of ambition in a quandary. In a drama of near-constant betrayal and anxiety, it would be easy for the simple phenomenon of loyal friendship to be dwarfed. However, Scholl and Davies avoid any such danger.

Despite much danger and heartache, the plot contains moments of optimism and even genuine happiness. The cast and orchestra radiate Handel’s joy in an infectious way, ensuring a varied emotional palate.